This is a blog on the mindfield that is employing someone to lead childrens, youth, family work in the local church and community.  Across the years I have been supporting, encouraging and working with churches to do this, I have encountered wonderful practice and, er, not so wonderful . . . hence this (slightly tongue in cheek list of Why you should and why you most definitely, should not).

First to the things in place that make it a good idea and suggest you are in a good place to move forward ::

Why?

  • There is a growing and dynamic team of volunteer leaders who need someone to provide expertise, leadership, vision for the future etc.
    • This is about taking things to the next level.  The Vicar or Curate cannot “cover” all aspects of ministry.  To keep things moving, especially if there is a large volunteer team, it might be time to employ.
  • There is a shared ownership of the vision to employ a salaried worker through out the church.
    • Vision (and a vision that is SHARED) is very important if employing someone is to work.  The whole church need to get behind an employed worker, see them as part of the ministry staff team, and also the whole church needs to share the vision for reaching and equipping the next generation, “it takes a village to raise a child” is an African proverb we could apply to the church.
  • There is a significant need in the local community (whether through linking with school, local authority etc) for work to be done that would require someone full or part time.
    • Opportunities arise, especially in these tough times.  As youth services are cut at local authority, district or parish level – what could the church do?  What about a partnership – don’t bear the financial burden alone and, a great guy once said, “The need is the call”, does the need locally demand a greater response from the church than is currently being given?
  • There is sufficient financial support now and there are good plans for the future (a business plan that includes continued fund raising, budget for ministry costs, planned giving etc).
    • This is a practical dynamic and needs to be accompanied by taking risks and praying hard – however, it is important to have a PLAN for how work is going to be supported.  Even if you get support from elsewhere – external funding will come to an END.  Build in some sustainability!
  • There is a clear understanding of what the church wants someone to focus on (i.e. primarily evangelism or primarily discipleship or primarily schools work or primarily 11-14s etc).
    • A needs assessment is a good place to start.  It is also a good litmus test to look at “where the growth is”, what is growing and needs further investment to keep momentum up.  Having had a great Sunday School for a decade, maybe the church is seeing – for the first time – a bunch of 11-14s who want to stay, but you need someone with specialist skills to invest and take the work forward.

Now to the list of serious concerns, if any of these ring true – please, stop and think – you might be anxious or desperate or knee jerking your way towards employing someone – not good enough!

Why Not?

  • We cannot get anyone else to do it so we thought we would employ someone.
    • Get the ethos right in the church before you move on.  If you cannot encourage commitment from those who say “this is our church”, it will be a hard, lonely, miserable job for one person if you manage to employ . . . get this sorted first!
  • It is the Vicar’s bright idea, but no one else really thinks we need it.
    • Tricky this one.  You might know best, but don’t over promise and under deliver.  Too many times we can throw around great ideas that we don’t follow through on.  Win hearts and minds of people, but also – if you are “sold on employing” someone – ask yourself why?  Does it just get it off your desk?  Are you used to working with others and missing that team dynamic?  Are you the youngest person at the church and you want someone else to hang out with?  Why aren’t others convinced?  Make sure you are able to reflect and are aware of your own motivations.
  • There are no young people in our parish, community that we are in touch with – but the local Baptist church seems to have many young people and we need to keep up.
    • We are not in competition and beginning a salaried position at the church with this as the driving factor will lead to disaster.  Someone once said, “comparison is the root of all inferiority” there is no way to “keep up” without feeling inferior to somebody – and your young people, your group, your church . . . is the one you have got – love who you HAVE, don’t look up the road wishing . . .
  • We aren’t sure we can support someone for longer than 18 months – we have some money from the Diocesan Mission Committee – but when that runs out, well, we are not very good at getting people to give – it is ok to experiment though isn’t it?
    • This is not an experiment.  You are potentially asking someone to move their family, away from friends, kids moving school etc.  Don’t mess with someone else’s life to see if it “works”.  Do it or don’t do it as Yoda would say (Star Wars reference), there is no “try”.  You would also be messing with the heads of the young people in your church and community – giving them someone and something one minute, taking it away the next.  Think in terms of “long haul” if you employ someone.
  • We do not really know what we want – a bit of this a bit of that – so far our working title for the role is “Children’s, Youth and Families Pastor and Community Evangelist and Outreach Worker with special responsibility for the Choir and Fresh Expressions of Worship Coordinator”.
    • This is probably the most common mistake.  Your church leader knows just how much is expected – in every way – don’t just “build that in” as some kind of default position!  You need to know what you want someone to be aiming at – otherwise, how will you know if they are effective or doing it?  Start with where you are at.  Have no young people AT ALL? – then you need an outreach / evangelist;  Have a shed load of young children and families? You might need a children’s and families worker;  got a load of young people “hanging out” in your community? Maybe go for a detached youth worker.  If you have ALL those needs, don’t employ one person to try and do it all – it is not possible.  Be focused and prioritise.

Finally, some additional thoughts after recent contact with parishes (especially applicable to Church of England):

#1.  Ensure line management and supervision are in place.

These two things are not the same.  Line Management is essentially about managing the “work”, thinking about activities, tasks, strategy, engagement etc.  Supervision is about the support and encouragment given to the worker themself.  A lot of places that employ can be rather “task” orientated, from a place of “how do we get more young people in?” for example.  This focus can turn something that is ministry (this is not simply a “job” to be done), into something stressful and all consuming . . . there MUST be space for the worker to think, reflect and pray with someone who is supervising them – in a similar way perhaps to a spiritual mentor.  The best scenario might be that a new worker is given 3 months to find one for themselves, or – arrives in the parish and already has someone who does this for them, and they are given the freedom and the time to continue to meet for this kind of support.

#2.  A parish needs to THINK about its giving / parish share and ALL its ministry commitments.

A couple of times I have seen children’s and youth workers being made redundant as parishes over stretch themselves.  In one example, a parish did not appreciate that taking on a training curate would incur costs . . . parish “share” going up can also have an impact.  In some Church of England Diocese, whilst the spread of curates across parishes is paid for centrally (with the burden shared across all churches) . . . there are associated costs to ministry, whether a parish is paying a stipend for a curate or not.  One parish has costed this at about £4,000 per year, for this to be paid they are sacrificing a salaried worker!  THINK churches, please think!

#3.  The critical years of 3, 5, and 7.

OK, this is my own estimate of impact and change and the time that certain things “generally” happen.  They are important because employing someone should NEVER be an experiment!

At 3 Years – stuff begins to happen.  Yes, 3 years in to a salaried post, depending on the context, starting point etc – you might begin to see some growth and movement in the m inistry with children and young people – quick bursts of what appears to be growth can happen quickly, and sustained growth can also take a lot longer – but 3 years in – you are JUST getting started!

At 5 Years – stuff can be moving along nicely – however, do not get complacent.  If you have employed a gifted children’s and youth worker, they might well be asking at this point – “what else is there for me to do here?”  The job they started doing may look completely different, have they had the freedom to grow and develop new things AND do the job you employed them to do?  Where do they see themselves in another 5 years?

At 7 Years – should I stay or should I go now?  Critically, the church needs to have helped the worker delegate and give away responsibility.  After 7 years the person you employed should not be fronting the same things they were when you employed them.  Why not?  Well, they might leave any day now and you will be stuffed if the work has been built around them and who they are.  Succession planning needs to begin at year 5 (whether they plan to go or stay) as the church asks, “who have you released and equipped for monistry with children and young people?”  The church needs to recognise that by year 7 a worker might be spending far more time with other leaders and key volunteers than when they started, and far less “face to face” time with young people.  This is a critical part of “giving it away” and equipping others to serve children and young people.  Those of us who work with children and young people are also ministers of the gospel and, alongside the Clergy, we need to be building up others for works of service etc (Ephesians 4)

#4.  Unity in Christ regardless of Churchmanship.

This is a tricky subject in the Church of England – but we have to face it!  Our young people are not growing up longing to be anglican (neither are most of them growing up longing to become good evangelicals, charismatics, anglo-catholics etc).  Most of our young people are growing up wanting to follow Jesus – and, we MUST let them!  We might be afraid they will “loose the one true faith” as they grow into adulthood, but – that “faith” is not our own BRAND of churchmanship.  That faith is the ONE faith, with ONE Lord and ONE baptism (Ephesians 4 again) . . . Back in the 1950s, the great JB Philips (New Testament Christianity) wrote this,

I find that there is a definite movement towards a united Church, and a very deep desire to see the end of “our unhappy divisions”. I have found this strongly marked desire in all denominations, including my own, and for myself I would say that unless a man is completely blind and bigoted, he could scarcely deny that the living Spirit of God is using gentle but considerable pres­sures to bring all Christians together. Young Christians particularly, many of whom are in daily contact in office, garage, factory, and workshop with ardent young Communists, find the tragedy of a divided Christendom a painful obstacle to their witness. As has been brought home to me so many times, the points of agreement among the Christian denominations are so very much larger than the points of disagreement that, surrounded as we are by a largely pagan world, it is the height of folly to say or do anything which postpones the process of unity or perpetuates our differences. Prayer is prob­ably the best weapon here, since a real influx of the living Spirit into existing denominations would quickly expose the stupidity and sin of maintaining denominational bar­riers of which, be it firmly said, many keen young Chris­tians are not even aware.”

Philips was writing in 1956 so communism gets a mention as does Christendom – both of those are largely gone – the first is not the threat it was to the west, whilst we must acknowledge the challenge of being a Christian in communist states and the second, well that is gone – we are not in Christendom anymore!  However, what saddens me the most is that the young people that Philips talks about in the late 1950s grew up.  Yes, they grew up and somehow many of them must have taken on the prejudices, concerns beyond the gospel, angels on a pin head theological twisting and turning that means we continue to have division and – in some parts of the Church – increasing partisanship.  We CANNOT and must not pass this on to the next generation, lets break the cycle please!

THIS unity is often already there in much of the church youth work that goes on today, many churches HAVE youth work because they are working in partnership with others, healthy youth work exposes young people to a whole range of worship practice and we must, together, find a way of gathering around Christ – who is our Head.

Young people may well lead the way in this, and we MUST and SHOULD follow their example.  Lets not try and conform them to a pattern that we have grown personally comfortable with, or we have received without question – when you appoint a children’s, youth or family worker are you ready for your church and congregation to be challenged (and INSPIRED!) as young people share less a passion for the things that can pre-occupy us so often and more a passion for Jesus!